December 13, 2023

Mastering SaaS Sales: Navigating Complex Deals with Michael Akinle

In this episode, Alper and Michael dive into how to manage complex deals and engage clients in the changing landscape of SaaS sales.

Table of contents

Meet our guest

Michael Ranmi Akinlé, Revenue Advisor | Sales Director at Clari, the leading revenue intelligence and operations platform.

Michael, one of the founding members of Clari, was born and grew up in Lagos, Nigeria but later moved to the UK. Despite getting a degree in Sports Management and plans to go into football, Michael started his career in recruitment. 

His football coaching background made him an excellent communicator so after a year in recruitment he went into sales — cold business development — and later transitioned into SaaS as an entry-level SDR. Within about a year Michael started leading an SDR team as well as field marketing at Dynamic Signal, an employee communications platform. Later, he joined Clari as one of the first few hires in Europe focusing on pipeline and growth. 

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Key takeaways

  • When selling to executives, believing in what you're selling and the charisma that you can transmit to the customer is really important.
  • To succeed with multithreading, you need a very clear idea of what leaders are looking for and what they are interested in.
  • A leader has to lead by example, show your reps how they're doing things, the gaps that they could fill, and teach them how to do things better and more efficiently.
  • Sales leaders today are looking to get even more predictability around key deals that they're working on, which makes sales enablement tools like Flowla really important.
  • The most important skills a sales rep should have for complex sales are relationship building, understanding your customer's business, and building really good business cases.

Or skim through the summary of the conversation below 👇

Getting started in consultative SaaS sales 

When Michael first joined Clari, they spent a lot of time trying to establish their ICP in Europe —  understanding which accounts to go after and why they should go after them. This helped them build a territory plan for their sellers to go and execute. But they first had to do a lot of education and brand awareness, trying to help leaders see how they could do things better than what they were already doing. 

Michael admits that the communication skills he developed back in his football management days turned out really helpful in his new role, especially charisma. When selling to executives, believing in what you're selling and the charisma that you can transmit to the customer is really important. According to Michael, that's something that gets you over the line. But also, communicating the value of what you’re offering to the customers is essential.

Michael is a well-rounded salesperson today. But his transition from high-velocity sales to a more consultative approach and tackling complex deals required building certain skills. The top three are: 

  • How to ask very deep questions to get to the real pain?
  • How to go higher, wider in an organization?
  • How to go from “I'm selling to you” to “I'm selling with you”?

These are the three skills you have to master when going from high-velocity, transactional to more complex, enterprise sales.

Building connections with different buyer personas

According to Michael, his team at Clari drives a really rigorous process around multi-threading. They know who their buyers are. They know what their pains are. They know what buyers care about. So starting very early in the cycle, they are already mapping out who they need to speak to.

Once you map that out and know what your buyers all care about, then it’s just a matter of outreach. But how do you put together an outreach campaign or outreach plan to actually touch each and every single one of those personas? 

Michael shares that at Clari they are really successful in multi-threading. They build a connection with their target accounts by activating their leaders, their C-suite, and their board members at Clari. That might involve writing notes for their VP to send to another VP. They would get their VPs connected to the VPs at the target account, they get their CRO connected to the CRO, and their CEO — to the CEO of that company.

Yet, to succeed with this strategy, you need a very clear idea of what leaders are looking for and what they are interested in. According to Michael, this includes:

  • What's not working? 
  • What's stopping growth? 
  • Why they're losing deals? 
  • How to get the B players to become A players?

Coaching and leadership in sales

Just recently, Michael saw a poll in one of the sales communities that shocked him — about 80 to 90% of the members responded that they don't get any coaching from their leaders. While it’s not the case for Michael himself, he argues that the fundamental first responsibility of a leader is coaching.

So you have to lead by example, show them how they're doing things, the gaps that they could fill, and teach them how to do things better and more efficiently. And then they can see the results from it and then you can pat them on the back when they get the results from it. That's what leadership looks to Michael. 

Yet, this doesn’t mean that leaders shouldn’t use data at all. It can also help you turn your B players into A players by allowing you to see through loads of tools out there that give you analytics around a particular performer. 

"For example, tools like Clary Copilot, or Gong, or Mojo. These tools show you what your reps are doing well and what they're not doing so well. And you can tap into what they're not doing well and make it better and tweak it."

A leader who has that conversational intelligence inside there to identify some patterns, e.g., when the reps are talking too much or when they've not asked enough questions, they lose a customer. These are the insights you can use to coach.

Sales enablement and playbooks in complex deals

According to Michael, sales leaders today are looking to get even more predictability around key deals that they're working on. To do that, tools like Flowla are helpful because they give leaders true insights and true predictability around what's really happening in a deal, where you're at versus what the sales reps might tell you. They are giving the true visibility around how engaged the buying committee is with your content, and how engaged they are with the rep. 

Another important part of sales enablement is compliance with playbooks. In enterprise sales, you have to have some guardrails around what you need to do to win the deal. So having proven playbooks, especially for new reps, is really important for them to see what's working, how they can emulate and how can they see success in a repeatable way. That's why playbooks are important. 

"At the end of the day, fundamentally the most important thing to a CEO is revenue. Revenue comes from your customers. So whatever you're doing in enablement, in leadership, if it's not tying into how to win deals more predictably, quicker, with more velocity, like, I don't know what you're doing."

As a leader, regardless of the actual title, it all boils down to what you are doing to affect deals and how you are helping your team win more deals. That is your mandate, your first responsibility — to affect the bottom line revenue. Not rolling out some training that is not going to impact it directly.

Skills, tools, and strategies to close complex deals

For Michael, a complex deal is when you have to navigate through loads of different stakeholders, you have to navigate through organizational politics, create a champion out of nothing, and essentially get the buy-in from the C-suite. Those four things make a complex deal.

So the first skill a junior rep should develop is relationship building. If you don't have a champion who is willing to collaborate with you, learn from you, get guidance from you, and then expose you to their world, it's not going to happen. You won’t be able to close complex deals.

The second one is learning how to understand your customer's business, their strategic initiatives, how the solution they're selling ties into that, and how they're going to deliver ROI. Learning how to build really good business cases is also a skill that you have to develop in complex selling.

Those are the skills that can be developed, but there are also the basics like care, curiosity, and empathy you have to have. Because if you don't genuinely care about somebody else's issues and problems you won't go very far because you'll be bored. 

You should be in sales if you have that curiosity, the desire to learn more about people, learn more about customers' pain points, and what they care about. To be in sales, a person needs to be charismatic, good at communicating, at getting along with people. 

"If you're a magnet, if people would like to be around you, learn from you, and talk to you, you should definitely be in sales. Cause you have something that not many people have, which is the power of influence. You can influence people really well. "

Michael’s go-to strategy for sealing a deal is to get a champion on text. It works for him every time — once he gets the champion on text, he closes the deal.

Resources

Full episode transcript

Alper Yurder: In this episode, I'm very happy to be speaking with my dear friend Michael, who is one of the founding members of the very famous sales tech tool, Clari. And today we'll be talking about some very interesting things about his experience of being in the world of complex deals, client relationships, maybe his observations about what leaders are looking for these days to make their lives easier. Michael is super eloquent and super-diligent in the way he forms his opinions. I think I really liked having conversations with him previously when we were just building Flola and one of the things he really did much better than I did was explain the value of the product back to me in a much more clear way than I ever could, which is why I'm really excited to have somebody with a lot of P2B sales experience. That was a very long intro I did for you there Mike, but I know you might want to add something from your personal life, but how are you feeling today?

Michael Akinle: I'm good. It's a pleasure to be here. This has been sort of a not a long time coming, but a mid-term time coming. I eventually knew you were going to do something like that. Well, I didn't know you were going to do something like this, but it didn't surprise me that you decided to start something like this, right? Because, you know, you always we've always come across as someone that was always very curious, wanted to learn more and, you know, wanted to learn how to do things better. So this kind of was just, you know, a natural a natural thing. So good luck to you and yeah, great to be here.

Alper Yurder: Thank you. That's very sweet of you. And I really liked that intro about sales therapy because I really want it to be that, you know, psychology, selling, those are a few of my favorite things in the world and I think they're very connected. And whenever we have a conversation, when I ask for your opinions, you really help me out with that and you always approach with a very human angle, which I really love. 

Alper Yurder: So first thing first, before we talk about business, work, year-end and closing and deals, I like my guests to introduce themselves in their own words and every therapy session starts with childhood. So may I ask, where did you grow up? What is your story? Where are you these days and what's happened in between?

Michael Akinle: Yes, yes. That is so true. Every good therapy session sounds so chappard. So I grew up in, well, I spent the first 10 years of my life in Nigeria, Lagos. I grew up, I was born in Lagos, Nigeria. I kind of learned how to suffer there for a while, right? And then I came to the UK, learned how to suffer some more, coming from, you know, lower working-class background, whatever you want to call it. A mom working, a single mother working three, four jobs at once, going maybe days or maybe even weeks without seeing her having to live by myself at 10, 11 years old. So that's kind of a little bit about my background. And you know, you probably maybe understand how that shaped my character. You know, I've grown up. I'm obviously not much older, right? Based in the UK, I live in the garden of England called Kent, so that's a little bit about what I'm doing, where I am right now.

Alper Yurder: Yeah. And you have somebody in the background for those watching the podcast. There was a there is a picture. There's a photo. Would you like to elaborate on that a little bit?

Michael Akinle: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So this is my baby girl. Her name is Leah Janai. She's awesome. She's totally awesome. Love her to bits. But yeah, I have like four jobs at once. Clari, formulation, one husband, dad. So yeah, keeps me busy.

Alper Yurder: You have multiple jobs now. Yeah. Excellent. And it was, thank you for that intro and being very open about it. Yeah, yeah, that background shapes who you are. And I guess like achieving in life, making mom proud, you know, having a life that is a little bit easier than hers maybe, or helping her out with that. Maybe those things also drive the career progression.

Michael Akinle: Yeah, I'd say so. I think one thing I got from my mom was just how hard she worked. I think if there's any quality I got from her or yeah, quality was just hard work, right? So I'm not an only child. I do have an older brother, a different dad, and you know, just working so many jobs to support me, making sure I got through school, working multiple jobs for him, make sure he got through school and the challenges that came with that and then supporting family back in Nigeria because of course the economy is terrible over there. So, you know, you find most people here from that kind of African Caribbean background in the UK or US where having we're working to send money back home and all that kind of stuff. So there's a lot of mouths to feed. And, you know, when you're watching that, so when you're watching that growing up you just naturally become a hard worker yourself. You become someone that you know, you want to be dependable. You want to provide stability to your own family. So I really, I heavily prioritized that in my life, in my career. So you can imagine like, I've been at Clari for four years now. I'm not jumping around anywhere, right? I've been here a long time. And I've made sure that, you know, in that time, I've grown quite a lot. I've pushed myself to grow as much as I can and there's still some more growing to do. But it just comes back to that, you know, hard work mentality, mouth to feed. Um, so yeah, that's just the context, I guess.

Alper Yurder: Okay, this is, I love how we dive into therapy. Let's, this is really cool because it's exactly what I wanna do. There's a definite relation between who people are and how they are at work and what they try to achieve in career. Those are not separate things, although we wanna separate personal life and business life sometimes. Anyway, now coming to bringing you back from Nigerian days to today, how did you start your career? Like where did you start your career? And was it always sales for you?

Michael Akinle: Yeah, um, uh, on voluntarily. Um, so I, you know, growing up from like my teenage years, I've been heavily like orientated towards sports. I've been a highly, highly competitive person. So I went to, I did my degree in sports management at university. I had plans to go into football. Um, I had my, my career dream was to manage Arsenal Football Club. That was my career dream, right? I was going to be like the first team manager of Arsenal Football Club. Now that is a very long journey, right? That is, you have to build up so much reputation, build up so much experience. That was never going to be a five-year thing I get to, or thing I get to after five years coming out of university. It's more a thing you get to after 20 years coming out of university. I didn't have that time, right? I, you know, I wanted to settle down, have a family. I didn't have time to wait around. So I kind of put my CV online and got contacted by a recruiter. And I kind of, you know, pivoted into recruitment. So I went from someone else doing a lot of man management and football coaching, all that stuff into recruitment very early. That was my first job out of uni. And I did okay, like I had, you know, really good transferable skills, you know, from my football coaching background, you know, you have to be super, super clear when you're communicating. You really have to be an excellent communicator when you're coaching or managing. You have to be able to, you know, communicate what you want, how you want it very, very clearly in a way that's very easy to understand for a group of 20 people all at once, right? You know, you have to make tough decisions, you have to be a dad, you have to be a coach, you have to be a therapist, you have to be, you have to play so many different roles, depending on the individual that you're working with, right. So all 20 people I was managing, or 22 people I was managing all had different needs as football players and as human beings, and you almost have to like chameleon yourself to be able to support what their needs are. So that gave me, you know, a really good you know, skill set to go into recruitment, because now I'm picking up the phone and I'm trying to build relationships with people. I'm trying to do business development and you're taking all that learning and just how to communicate clearly, how to sell your how to because as a football manager, you also have to sell an idea. You have to sell a vision, right? You have to sell. I don't know if you're too much into Alpa, but you have to sell a vision of philosophy of how you want your team to play, how you want them to execute certain actions. So if you kind of transfer that into sales is you have to sell. You have to sell, you have to sell to a company that, you know, they should partner with you or in recruitment. In this case, you want to win their business. They're hiring and you want to, you know, be, you want to be hired as a retainer. You know, you want to be given a retainer for a particular set of roles. So like you're always selling something. I've always been selling something, whether directly or indirectly. So I fell into recruitment, did that for a year. Then went into just cold business development, very transactional, high-velocity sales you know, closing deals and one calls in, you know, do more consultative selling and did that for a year and eight months. And then I transitioned to SAS. And then when I landed in SAS, I started obviously as an entry-level SDR within about a year, become a team lead, then maybe another few months, you know, started leading a SDR team of six, six to seven people, as well as field marketing at a company called Dynamic Signal, which was an employee communications platform. Then after a year, they moved on to transition to Clari, which I've been ever since. Again, just came into Clari. We had maybe two people here when I was talking to the company in Europe, two people in Europe, joined the team. Um, there was four of us by the time I joined. And then really just helped to cover everything pipeline related in the region. So really looking after growth, right? Um, and pipeline and everything in regards to that. And then, of course, I transition it all close and roll after a year. So that's kind of been my very interesting, what, short journey in SAS, right? 

Alper Yurder: So for those who are not very familiar with Clari, can you explain a little bit what the product is and how you've become so successful in such short time?

Michael Akinle: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. So Clari today, um, in a couple of sentences is a revenue platform that helps revenue leaders, um, drive growth, efficiency and predictability, um, as in this kind of high growth startup environment or scale up environment that we're in, you know, um, so they're just looking to win, they're looking to win more deals. They're looking to hit that number. And what Clari does is to provide that visibility that they need to win more deals and hit the number to provide them a scalable way of driving growth in their business and to drive more collaboration and governance in their processes, pretty much.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, that's excellent. Every conversation I have with leaders, it somehow leads to something around data or insights. I think everyone's looking for ways to understand the client better so they can serve better. You being the first, one of the first founding employees, et cetera, how was that experience for you in this giant, high growth environment?

Michael Akinle: Of course. Yeah. So I think the first thing when I joined was we were, we spent a lot of time trying to establish our ICP in Europe. Right. Um, that was like the first thing. So we spent a lot of time in spreadsheets, understanding which accounts we should go after, why should we go after them? And then really then starting to build some kind of, you know, territory plan that makes sense for, you know, for our sellers to then go and execute. Right. That's, that's kind of the first thing. Um, and then from a self cycle perspective, it's really like, a lot of it when we landed in Mia was educational. No one knew what Clari was. It was all very educational. It was like, what is Clari? A lot of my phone calls I was making, what is Clari, what does Clari do? So it was, a lot of it was education, brand awareness. And when we were lucky enough to get into a cycle, it was then, you know, again, more education and just trying to help leaders see how they could do things better than what they were already doing, right? That was what it was like in kind of those early days.

Alper Yurder: Yeah. And you were obviously selling the dream or selling the vision. I mean, I like talking about people's strategies when it comes to creating urgency, convincing the clients, and you are very well trained in that in your football management days, obviously, selling the dream, selling the vision, you know, creating buy into that. Um, do you think those skills were transferable to your life and sales?

Michael Akinle: Correct. Yeah, 100%. Especially the charisma, right? Charisma is not a word I hear too much amongst salespeople, but charisma is really important. When you're selling to, you know, executives like believing in what you're selling and just the charisma that you know, that you can transmit to the customer is really important. And that's something that really gets you over the line. Again, just being very clear about what this what this is, what it does, and how we can help them that is really like fundamentally what they care about. How can it help them be better leaders? How can it help them be better coaches? How can it help them be better operators? That is it.

Alper Yurder: Absolutely. And to become the well-rounded salesperson that you are today, I think I had a bit of a similar experience of like seeing both large complex deals, high velocity, how things are different. Cause they are quite different. Um, I guess how was that transition for you from the high velocity, let's close the deal to a more consultative approach or tackling like complex deals. Did you have to develop?

Michael Akinle: Yeah, I think the biggest difference. Say again?

Alper Yurder: Did you have to develop certain skills or were things a bit different for you?

Michael Akinle: Yes, yes. So I had to develop certain skills and the skills I think kind of top three would be how to ask very deep questions to get to the real pain, how to go higher, widen an organization, that's the second one, and how to essentially go from I'm selling to you to I'm selling with you. Those are the three skills I would say are very different from transactional high velocity to kind of more enterprise, concentrate yourselves.

Alper Yurder: I think I fell in love with those three tips actually, especially two and three. I wanna dig into two. How do you go wider in the organization? Which is something that everybody preaches, but I don't think everyone does it so well. Like on a scale of zero to 10, how well do you think you perform in that department?

Michael Akinle: Yeah. I think at Clari, we drive a really rigorous process around multi-threading. So, you know, we know who our buyers are. We know what their pains are. We know what they care about. So as soon as like we're very early in the cycle, we already kind of mapping out, you know, who we need to speak to. We target sales of sales leaders, CRO, number of customers, CRO. So depending on work, most of the time, especially in our early days at Clarion, we were stuck in sales ops, right? Sales ops were who we were speaking to most of the time. And yeah, rightly so, they drive all the tech stack, et cetera. But we didn't get good deals done until we got to sales. Actually, I don't even know if we got any deals done if we didn't get to sales. So we always had to get to sales, sales leadership. And really, that's like VP of sales, director of sales, CRO, chief customer officer, et cetera. So that is… And then really when you map that out and you know what they all care about, then it's just a matter of outreach. You know, how do you actually put together an outreach campaign or outreach plan to actually, you know, touch each and every single one of those personas. One thing we do really well at Clarion as well is we're really good at activating our leaders and board members. So what I mean by that is, you know, I am, we will write notes for our VP to send to another VP. So we get our VPs connected to VPs, our customers, we get our CRO connected to CRO, our customers, we get our CEO connected to CRO, our customers. Like we do that really, really well. And, you know, yeah, we just do that extremely, extremely well. And of course, we have board members who are very involved. So, you know, we might have a really big deal that we're working on and, you know, board member, one of our board members might sit on another board of a customer that we really care about, or is connected to maybe an operator, a customer that we really want to win. So we just get a note from that board member sent to the operator, right? And then that's how we build a connection. So we really activate our leaders and our C-suite and our board members at Clari. And that's how we were really successful on multi-threaded. And that's how I've got really good at it.

Alper Yurder: I love everything that you say. There are so many best practices that you share in that, you know, short sentence. And, and something that I realize is sometimes outreach prospecting is seen as an SDR activity. And I always say like, you are an SDR, if you're whatever level, like your job as a leader is to develop business and open new opportunities for your team. Isn't it? I love how you're bored and everybody's involved in that. Um, you mentioned something that I'm really curious about. You mentioned that you have a very clear idea of what leaders are looking for, what are they interested in and sales leaders. Can you share a little bit about that? Like what are sales leaders interested in?

Michael Akinle: What's not working? What's stopping growth? Why they're losing deals? And how to get the B players to become A players. Those are like, for me, without being too elongated about it, other things that leaders care about. I can repeat them if you want, but I can also dive deep into a particular one. But in the interest of time, is there any that you want me to dive deep into? I'll do what I mentioned.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, I think first I would go with whichever you want to dig into, but I especially like number four, which is how do you turn mid-performers into top performers? But let's go in your order.

Michael Akinle: Yeah, yeah, this was actually the one that I was gonna touch on first if you didn't ask. So I don't know if you know, it's like, I'll tell you a very quick story. So I'm in this WhatsApp group with other sellers. And there was like a poll that came out in this group. I said like, and there's like 200 people in this group, right. And it was like a survey of how many of us get coaching. Right. And I thought you'll be surprised.

Alper Yurder: Let's do that.

Michael Akinle: Now about 80 to 90% of us don't get coaching, right? From our leaders, that's crazy, right? Now that's nothing to do with my leaders. Like I'm pretty happy with how my leaders go about coaching, but I think just for the AEs out there, a lot of them are not getting coaching today. And you might dig into the reason why is because, you know, the VPs or directors of sales are very busy with more strategic stuff. But actually the fundamental first responsibility you have is coaching, not strategic stuff, it's coaching. So I think that you can't, first of all, if you're a director of sales, you're head of sales, and you are thinking, how do you get my B players into A players, but you don't want to do the coaching, then you're in dreamland. You're in dreamland. You don't get it, right? Forget it. You just want to get in your dashboards and your fancy reports. That's not leading. I'm going to say out there for anyone listening to this podcast, leading is not dashboards and reporting.

Alper Yurder: Yeah. You just want it done. You just want it done, but you don't want to have anything to do with it.

Michael Akinle: Like having fancy conversations with data. Like it's just getting in the trenches with people and coaching. So that's how you turn your B players into A players. When you lead by example, you show them how they're doing things, the gaps that they could, you know, they could feel and teach them how to do things better and more efficiently. And then they can see the results from it and then pat them on the back when they get the results from it, right? So that's for me. And the beauty about data is that data can help you turn your B players into A players because you can see through. Loads of tools out there that give you loads of analytics around how a particular performer, for example, tools like Clari Copilot or Gong or Mojo. Those are tools that are available to show you what your reps are doing well and what they're not doing so well. And you can tap into what they're not doing well and make it better and tweak it. You have all that conversational intelligence inside there to tell you, hey, you're when your reps are talking too much, you know, they lose a customer. When they've not asked enough questions, they lose a customer. So these are things you can use as insight that we didn't have before, right? Now you have it, you can use it to coach. So now there's no excuse of why you can't actually do the coaching. So that's the first thing for me is what leaders should care about. How many leaders care about it? I don't know, but leaders should care about turning their B players into A players. Because at the end of the day, reps, if they look back on their career, they're always going to remember the managers that help them to make the most money. I'll pull it out of there. Right. That is what the rest will look back on. Which manager helped me to make the most money? And you want to be that manager. If you're not the manager that helped them to make the most money, you've not done a good job. You've not been a good manager.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, I think it's a very good point, but it's not that, I think everybody at the end of the day cares about it, but how much do they really care about it? Also, it's a very difficult task to coach people, to grow people, and then we're very, sometimes quarter to quarter, living short-sighted about the targets, et cetera. Your priorities might go somewhere where you feel more comfortable. Or some, I've seen some leaders, quote, unquote, sitting in their Iowa tower and just don't want to get their hands dirty and ask, you know, to create some decks to present with some numbers, but never really doing the hard work of actually understanding what are the common missteps about our reps, how can we improve on them? And some, I remember myself, I didn't really have much of that data in my early days of leadership. And that's exactly why we're trying to build those insights into flow as well. Like, because we see that, you know, 26% of winnable deals are falling into cracks because your reps are just not multithreading or following up in the right way, sharing the latest and the greatest. So those things that, that are avoidable and now data shows it to you, just like you say.

Michael Akinle: Yeah, I mean, if you are, you know, you're Eiffel Tower somewhere, you're not a leader. You should have a different title, right? A leader is someone that leads, that leads. That's the key thing, not build reports or dashboards. That leads by example. So if you're not leading, you're not a leader. You should be like, I don't know, go to sales ops or something. Like, that's just my opinion, right? If you're not helping your reps to win deals, you're not a leader. I mean, I'm brave enough just to say that, right?

Alper Yurder: No, I love it. And I think people just like when you just say what everyone else is thinking. So that's exactly what you're doing. And this is probably going into the teaser of this episode. So if anybody wants to listen to this episode, this is probably going to be the teaser for it, which I love it. Like the whole idea of self-therapy is to talk honestly about what everyone else knows. Like not the point to brag, to say the truth as it is. One other thing that I want to discuss with you, I think you're very elegant as I said before in the way that you express things. I think it's it helps to be I'm not a native speaker of Turkish, of English, obviously I'm Turkish myself, so I always admire people who put their thoughts into very well and eloquently created sentences One thing that was really striking for me was when you saw flow for the first time you put it into better words that then I ever could at that point or you know clarify what do you think about the tools in our space these days, like buyer enablement in general, flow load, our competition? Do you think there's a future for those? Where do they sit? I'd like to hear your opinions a little bit about that if possible.

Michael Akinle: Yeah, absolutely. Is there a future? Yes. Why? Because leaders today are looking to get even more predictability around key deals that they're working on, right? Predictability in the deals is super, super important for leaders today. Especially now, like, you know, there's high growth targets. It's just high targets, right? You've got to close as much as you've got to close, right? So to do that, tools like Flowla, your competitors. It's super helpful because you are giving leaders, you know, true insight and true predictability around what's truly happening in a deal, where you're at versus what the sales reps happy is might tell you, right? Um, you're giving true visibility around, you know, how engaged, uh, buying committee is with content, how engaged they are with the rep. So I think tools like Flora and, you know, competitors in your space are going to enjoy more success simply because there is a need for more predictability in the sales cycle.

Alper Yurder: Yeah. And how do you feel? I don't know how things work at Clari, but how do you feel about playbooks and compliance to playbooks, especially when it comes to complex deals? I know some organizations are quite strict in the way, you know, stages, what you have to buy, do by each, they put a compliance score. And of course you're a very experienced salesperson, so you might do some of those things naturally. But for those who are not doing those things naturally, how strict do organizations have to be about their playbooks and compliance, do you think?

Michael Akinle: Yeah, 100%, especially in enterprise sales, you have to have some guardrails around what you need to do to win the deal. Like playbooks are important because for new reps, it's really important for them to see what's working, how can they emulate and how can they see success in a repeatable way. That's why playbooks are important. So if you're not doing it as a company, you should be doing as a company. If you're hiring someone in a woman, they should be putting that together. If they're not, they should be and they should mandate them to do that. Because at the end of the day, fundamentally the most important thing to a CEO is revenue. Revenue comes from your customers. So if you're not, if whatever you're doing in enablement, in leadership, if it's not tying into how to win deals more predictably, quicker, with more velocity, like, I don't know what you're doing.

Alper Yurder: Yeah. I love how we define the Chinese Christians today in this episode, and I completely agree with that.

Michael Akinle: Right? That is… What are you doing? Like, okay, like we have really fancy titles in tech, VP of a neighborhood. What are you doing to affect deals? And how are you helping your field to win more deals? And are you making it easy for them? Is it understandable? Is it digestible? Like that is your mandate. Like let's, there's so many fancy titles out there. And almost like sometimes you don't even know what, like what do you actually do? All right, let's put it down to like, affect the bottom line revenue. Like that is your first responsibility, right? Not rolling out a bunch of like training that is not gonna impact me directly. It's not gonna like help me to win more. I just part of that stuff, right? How are you affecting revenue growth? That is key. I hope I'm not roughly fed as today, but I just gotta say it, right?

Alper Yurder: No, I think we're just speaking the truth that everyone else thinks. And to be honest, everybody cares about those very specific things about like, what are the tips? Like, what do I have to do? Tell me what I need to do and I'll do it. And somebody has to collect them together. Sometimes it's in a revenue enablement function, but then somebody has to coach you on that, which is going to be your leader, your line manager. So I think those are very legit. Maybe one or two follow up questions to this and then we can, you know, move towards the final section. My follow-up questions will be this. What's a complex deal for you? And what skills, tools, strategies you have developed over the years that you would advise more junior reps to develop so they can close more complex, higher-ticket deals? Closer than long.

Michael Akinle: Oh, good question. Good question. So the first question is, what's the first question is, what's a complex deal for me? A complex deal for me is when you have to navigate through loads of different stakeholders, you have to navigate through politics, organizational politics, when you have to, you know, create a champion out of nothing, when you don't have a champion, but you have to create a champion out of nothing and essentially have to get buying from C-suite. That for me, those four things is what makes a complex deal for me, right? What skills do junior reps need to develop or strategies to be able to close complex deals? That's the second question, right?

Alper Yurder: Yeah, it is. As I said, you're more eloquent than me.

Michael Akinle: Oh, yeah. So I think the strategies, I think a junior rep should be developing is like, nail, nail relationship building, like nail it. I think for me, it's impossible to close a complex deal without knowing or without having someone to partner within the organization already, very difficult. Like it's very, very difficult, like almost impossible. Like if you don't have a champion that is willing to partner with you and collaborate with you and learn from you and get guidance from you and then expose you to their world, it's not gonna happen. You're not gonna close complex deals. So I think for me, like learn the art of relationship building, super, super important, super, super important. Another strategy I think… is definitely learning how to understand your customer's business really, really well. I think that's one of, we have reps at Clarid that are just absolutely amazing at this. And for me, it's so inspirational. Like, oh my God, they're so good at understanding the customer's business, understanding the customer strategic initiatives, how the solution they're selling ties into that, how they're going to deliver ROI. That is another like just learning how to build really good business cases is also a skill that you have to learn and develop and you know, it's, it's not an art, but once you get really good at understanding the customer's business, their real pain, what they're trying to achieve as a company and how you tie your solutions into that. I think as a junior rep, I think you, you'll be successful. Those two, those are the two things.

Alper Yurder: I love it. Yeah, and skills can be developed, but I think the basics, which is care, curiosity, empathy, those things you have to have them because, like at least the basics of it, right? Like I feel like if you don't have that basic, like if you don't genuinely care about somebody else's issues and problems, which is why I always call selling is like therapy, like you won't go very far because you'll be bored. Like...

Michael Akinle: Yeah. You shouldn't be in cells.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, that's what I'm saying. So then last question then, which is really a good lay, right? And these were great, great advice, by the way. This makes me think, Michael, we have to have this on a quarterly basis because you're just throwing gold out there. And maybe I'm a bit biased because you're just speaking everything in my mind. But anyway, whatever. So the last question then. You should be in sales if you have. You shouldn't be in sales if you don't have. What are those?

Michael Akinle: You should be in sales if you have… such a good question. You should be in sales if you have... Say again?

Alper Yurder: …or willing to build, I don't know, or willing to build on, let's say.

Michael Akinle: Willing to build, okay. So willing to build. So you should be in sales if you have a willing to build. You mentioned it. I think curiosity is a big thing. It's actually one of the most important qualities that you need. So you should be in sales if you have a desire to learn more about people, learn more about customers' pain points, what they care about. I think if you are, if you're charismatic, you should be in sales. If you are very good with people, you should be in sales. You're very good at communicating, you're very good at getting along with people. And people like, if you're a magnet, if people would like to be around you and learn from you and talk to you, like you should definitely be in sales for sure. Cause you have something that not many people have, which is the power of influence. You can influence people really well. And the last one you should be in sales if you have grit.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, yeah, unfortunately true.

Michael Akinle: So if you don't, so you shouldn't be in sales. Probably if you don't have all the opposites of what I said.

Alper Yurder: Exactly. I think that explains everything. That's great. That's been a great wrap up. So I'm going to move to the very last section. Actually, the whole conversation has been a bit like this section, which is great. Very specific tools, tips, methods, and you've been throwing them at us, but let me try in this way. So this is three fire-rapid questions. As a closer, what's your go-to strategy for sealing a deal?

Michael Akinle: Get your champion on text. Uh, that's my go-to strategy.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, maybe send them a flow first. Anyway, just shameless plug. That's about it. Okay.

Michael Akinle: But that works for me every time. Every time I get my champion on text, I close the deal.

Alper Yurder: Okay. What motivates you in a sales role and what do you think? How do you think you can motivate others in a sales role?

Michael Akinle: Okay, what motivates... You're gonna laugh, but it's such a cliche answer. My commission. And then what motivates, what kind of happen I motivate other people showing them my commission check.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, I definitely do. I definitely do miss the days of having the commission. I don't miss the days of having to have my team to close as much as me to have my commission.

Michael Akinle: It's the truth. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's the thing about being a manager, right? You actually, sales is one of those careers that as a manager, like your team can make more than you. It's just one of the other careers I know that your teammates can probably make more than you.

Alper Yurder: And then you go crazy and decide being a founder and build something for salespeople, which is even crazier.

Michael Akinle: You know what I mean? So yeah, I say my commission, yeah, commission is like the most motivating thing.

Alper Yurder: Another question for you, as an entrepreneurial spirit, which you are, and you show that in your job and it comes across, but you have other hobbies, things, things to do, side hustles. How do you juggle them all together?

Michael Akinle: Um, you can't, you just, you just got to do it. Right. You, you can't, when I say you can't, you can't do it in a way that, you know, it's balanced. Right. Like you just can't like, you know, like your business might have serious needs and maybe work is a bit more like quiet. So how do you juggle them all together? I think my biggest advice is: just dive in, solve problems and learn. That's the only thing, like, don't worry about bad listening anymore. Dive in, solve problems and learn. And just try to make a big impact on people. That's all you should worry about when you have many side-offs because otherwise you get burnt out. You get to a point you're like, why am I doing this? And if you're not having any impact on people, if you're not learning anything, you just, you stop, you quit.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, the moment you gave that answer, I realized this is exactly how I would have answered. So I don't think there was a way to set you up for a more formal and, you know, shiny answer, like do this or do that, because it's the reality. And I feel the same. Sometimes something gives more, sorry, it takes more time and energy. But the burnout point is with you.

Michael Akinle: Yeah. Especially building a company. Building a company is so energy consuming. Right, right, it's 24-7. And you know, we have a lot of salespeople out there that aspire to be founders, which is fantastic. But you know, you have to come to the reality of it. It's a 24-7 job. There is no work-life balance. Doesn't exist. And you can speak to that, but right, I can't, I'm not a founder, I have a business, but there's a difference between having a business like mine and being a founder of a tech company, right? So this is where grit comes into it and just your passion for the value of delivering and your passion to make an impact on people's lives. That's what's gonna help you to wake up every single day and do what you do.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, I think you're not a founder, but so wasn't I. But then I realized I was almost like a founder in my old jobs. And I think you have that spirit to like very entrepreneurial ownership. It comes from the childhood, as you said, dependability, you know, once you own something, you own it like yours, which, which I think employers are really like to find like you and us in that sense. So when I find those people, I try to make them happy anyway, like any good therapist, I'm going to have to cut us on time which we are. This has been an amazing conversation, Michael. Thank you so much for being one of my early guests and putting up with my hiccups and everything as I navigate this new role. But hope you enjoyed it too.

Michael Akinle: I did. I really did. I really did. You know, you asked some great questions. Really enjoyed it. And you know, you got me some things to reflect on too, right? You know, when you're talking to someone, a lot of the times you're talking to yourself, right? So give me some really cool things to remember and reflect on. So thanks for a great conversation.

Alper Yurder: Thank you. That's a very kind thing to say. That means you were talking to a worthy person. Good. So if people want to find out more about you or want to reach out, where should they go? Is it LinkedIn, Twitter? What is it?

Michael Akinle: My LinkedIn. My LinkedIn, yeah, my LinkedIn is the best place to go. They wanna find out more about me. They wanna talk to me. Just go to my LinkedIn. It's Michael Ranmi Akinlé. Yeah, I'm quite easy to find, hopefully.

Alper Yurder: Fantastic. Michael, this has been an excellent conversation. Thank you so much for doing me the honors. And that's a wrap on this episode of sales therapy. If you enjoy the show, subscribe to us on YouTube or on your favorite podcast platforms and look forward to seeing you in the next episode. Bye.

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